Wizards to hire ‘lead executive’ to work under Michael Winger

The Washington Wizards will hire a lead executive to work under new president of Monumental basketball Michael Winger, the team said Thursday. 

In a press release announcing Winger’s hire, the team said that the to-be-made hire will report to Winger and oversee the Capital City Go-Go, Washington’s G-League franchise. Winger and owner Ted Leonsis will oversee the hiring process “immediately.”

Though the Wizards did not say whether the executive would be given the title of general manager, the strategy appears to mirror a setup held by a number of teams in the NBA that have a president of basketball operations and a general manager as the top decision-makers in an organization. In Los Angeles, Winger served as the Clippers’ general manager and worked under president of basketball operation Lawrence Frank. 

With the Wizards, Winger will get the chance to helm an organization — while also overseeing the Go-Go and Washington Mystics. Winger will report directly to Leonsis.

“I am honored to lead Monumental Basketball, with all three teams standing as proud representations of a unique and powerful region that has shown loyalty and patience throughout various levels of success,” Winger said in a statement.  “There is much work to do, but I am confident we can build our programs on sustainable principles that will underscore all of our decisions, re-establishing the prestige and status that we can celebrate with our deserving fans.”

The Wizards, in particular, are in a tough spot. Coming off back-to-back 35-47 seasons, Washington has made the playoffs only once in the last five years. Star Bradley Beal is entering the second year of a massive five-year, $251 million contract, while forwards Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis — Washington’s top players alongside Beal — are likely to become free agents. One of Winger’s first priorities will likely be to decide whether the Wizards should retain both, one or neither. 

Winger, though, is an experienced basketball executive. At 43, Winger has worked 18 years in the NBA — including the last six with the Clippers. In Los Angeles, Winger was part of a regime that traded for guard Paul George — a bold move that helped the team sign superstar Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2019.

Those acquisitions have — and haven’t — helped the Clippers.

The Clippers made the conference finals for the first time in 2021, but George and Leonard have largely struggled to stay healthy over their time together.

Los Angeles, so far, has fallen short of its championship aspirations, and the cost to acquire George hasn’t aged well: the Clippers gave up five first-round picks as part of a package that included rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who made All-NBA first-team this past season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Beyond Los Angeles, Winger has worked for the Thunder (2010 to 2018) as an assistant general manager and for the Cleveland Cavaliers (2005 to 2010) as director of basketball operations.

Winger replaces Tommy Sheppard, who was fired in April after four seasons at the helm. 

“Michael’s vast experience and broad range of executive-level skills will provide stability, accountability and leadership for all of our basketball franchises,” Leonsis said in a statement.  “His influence on helping to restore and sustain excellence at three different teams aligns with our goal of building championship contenders while his collaborative approach supports our shared services structure.”